In case you missed it, the Rangers have won six in a row and have stormed back into relevancy for this year’s NHL season. They’ve done it on the backs of the KZB line, balanced secondary/tertiary scoring, and a Henrik Lundqvist that is giving the middle finger to his doubters. What they haven’t done, though, is optimize the lineup and improve where there are clear improvements to be made.
It’s no coincidence that the winning streak started when Alain Vigneault stopped with the silliness of dressing eleven forwards and seven defensemen. That was one improvement that helped turn the team around (a regression to the mean for SH% is also a primary catalyst for this as well). But one thing to note, something that applies to life as well as sports, is that bad decisions may net good results sometimes in the short term, but in the long run will lead to bad results.
The most glaring and obvious improvement that can be made is getting Brendan Smith back in the lineup. I get it, he was out of shape. So you sit him for a few games, get him back into shape, and then get him back in the lineup. He is better than Steven Kampfer.
That is not an opinionated statement, it is fact, as shown above. Kampfer is a replacement level NHL defenseman, Smith is a second pairing defenseman. A few games in October in his age-28 season is going to go against Smith’s prior body of work? I have a hard time understanding that logic.
The argument for leaving the lineup the way it is has been that they are winning. For starters: Bull. Since they are winning, the team should stop the hunt for a 2C? I doubt any will agree to this, so why should Smith, the better player, be benched for Kampfer?
Another reason why the whole “we are winning, don’t change things” makes no sense: Remember when Henrik Lundqvist took a puck to the throat and was out for six weeks? Cam Talbot played brilliantly in that stretch. But at no point did the Rangers even consider leaving Hank on the bench when he was ready. Why? He’s the better goalie. You play your best players.
One last reason to play Smith – you just invested four years and more money than I’ll make in my lifetime for a guy that is now riding the pine. The draft picks used to acquire him are sunk cost at this point in time, but the contract is still lingering. Even if the idea is to trade him, benching him does not help in that regard.
At this point, the benching has taken on a life of its own. It’s no longer about sending a message that a player was out of shape. It’s becoming a story and a distraction for a team that really can’t afford to have one right now. This winning streak is simple math correcting itself (SH%) and finally having a balanced lineup (12F/6D). At some point, the optimal lineup needs to be dressed."There's always room for improvement",